Sometimes it's easy
Sometimes it comes easily. Usually I pick up the keyboard with a plan of where I’m going to start this opening gambit, where I’m going to finish it, and which overall point I’m going to make. Today I can’t quite get this to flow. Too many exciting topics in my mind to share I suppose? Deciding upon the right subject at the right time helps and as such, my initial plan for October was to extol the virtues of monochrome for moody skies and graphic detail, but at the moment there are crystal clear blue skies and 20°C even though it is mid October, so I’ll save that for another time. My self-imposed deadline for publishing the Newsletter is fast running out though. I’m champing at the bit to finish writing ‘Practising Photography’ and I so want to take out the Hasselblad later today for some fun long exposures. Yep, there's no choice. I’ve got to make a start and see what comes.
Looking for literary inspiration I passed by a print hanging on my wall, the one above. It was taken on a misty morning similar to those we should soon be experiencing. Let’s see how this goes then. The image was taken a few years ago now, one of my early digital shoots. The location had been picked out initially by visually scanning an OS map for contours using that old maxim which has served me well over the years, ‘If in doubt, go high’. Before any of you ask, that is no reference to my poker playing by the way! Now, I know that many of you may need oxygen at altitude, but the dizzy heights of the New Forest where this shot was taken do not warrant such measures. Anyway, the contours clearly show lumps and bumps on the moor and with a (relatively) high vantage point explored, I knew what my shot was going to be. Moors being moors, they are usually boggy places, holding moisture – an ideal spot for some ethereal mist to gather in the hollows as the temperature drops and that magic dew point is reached. All I needed was a clear cold night to make the ingredients come together for a photographer’s Epicurean delight.
Checking the weather forecast provided me with the information I needed. As with any assignment, allow yourself time. Like tides, the sun does not wait for you so I usually like to be set up on plot a good 45 minutes before sunrise and so it was this day. Tripod, remote release, Nikon camera and lens set at the 200mm end, ISO 100, a small aperture set and Lee ND graduated filter all ready for the off, waiting for the light. Of course it was essentially night when I arrived necessitating a head torch for the tramp out to the position, but that is normal. Although it always seems an age waiting, when the light does start to change, as it was doing, it all happens very quickly, something ‘dawn virgins’ often find surprising.
On this occasion, though not a dawn virgin, indeed quite the reverse, more of a dawn slut, it was still me who was surprised. Well, me and the ponies. They came out from their overnight lair in the comfort and warmth of the adjacent copse to be faced by some big ugly bloke standing next to three metal tubes stuck in the ground with a box on the top. Panicked, they pulled themselves up short. Me, I was equally startled by this gathering of equestrian muscle just metres away from me. Who was more shocked? Well I stayed where I was but the ponies galloped off down the valley into the mist. Rapidly anticipating, I whipped off the Lee filters, thumbed the aperture open and focused. The ponies had reached the moor below. I only managed to fire three quick frames before they disappeared further into the mist, hillocks and moorland beyond.
Checking the imagery, two of the frames were rubbish. One was useable. Not perfect by any means. It could have been faster. As it was, 1/180th second was the result of my expedited thumbing of the aperture wheel, but I did get the shot.
On the workshops I run, clients often ask if I ever use speed priority as opposed to aperture priority. I use the analogy that you are set up for a landscape and a herd of wildebeest run onto the plain followed by a herd (sic) of dolphins asking, how do you get the shot?
In this similar scenario, if I had decided to change from aperture to speed priority, I would have first had to take down the camera and change the dial mode to ‘S’, (Tv for Canon users); I would then be faced with a different set of numbers to decide upon; have to select a chosen speed and then fire the shutter. By that time the animals would be long gone and the shot missed. As it was, I knew that simply opening up the aperture with the thumb wheel would give me a faster speed, fact, and that was the best I could do in the time available….
….a bit like this article really.